Slot car fun endures generations
The trick is to go fast without flying off the track.
Good advice for any business, and for the hobbyists, racers and owner of Slot Car Warehouse in Park Lane Mall, where entertainment from the past meets the present.
The appeal of slot cars spans generations.
“Guys in their 40s, 50s and 60s are like ‘I used to do this when I was a kid,'” says owner Marc Malone.
“Kids pull mom and dad inside and say ‘I want to do this.'”
Slot cars are very like their fullsize counterparts with regard to racing and maintenance, but at 1/24 or 1/32 scale.
Powered by a 12-volt DC motor, they’re six to eight inches long and two to three inches wide.
They race on tracks that take up much of the store.
The rest of the store is devoted to pit areas for maintenance and to merchandise – Malone sells and rents cars and controllers.
Each track is different, with different twists, turns and challenges, and people come in during the week to practice and to work at soldering stations throughout the store, making and testing changes to the cars.
They seek to know if changes make the car run faster or handle better?
Enthusiasts lug huge pit boxes full of materials with them.
Marc Malone wasn’t an enthusiast; in fact, he knew nothing about slot cars.
After 26 years in the semiconductor business in Silicon Valley, he moved to northern Nevada and opened Diecast Heaven in Park Lane with his wife, Rowena.
When he went looking for something to do as an extension of the existing business (which sells collectible cars, from Franklin Mint to Hot Wheels), Internet research led him to Don Purdy’s Slot Car Warehouse in Concord, Calif., where Malone grew up.
Purdy showed him the ropes and they entered into a licensing agreement.
“The business is doing much better than I’d expected right off the bat,” Malone says.
“But I sell entertainment.
When I say slot cars most people think it’s just about racing, but it’s not- it’s entertainment.”
Friends race each other in impromptu events.
Structured race nights are Wednesdays for adults and Fridays for juniors.
Because both divisions require the same equipment, kids and parents can race the same car.
Weekends are reserved for walk-ins and birthday parties.
Slot car racing isn’t new, and most people don’t realize it’s still around.
Adults greet it with recognition, children with interest.
“The fun and excitement of slot car racing never really died, the tracks just went away,” says Malone.
His research indicates most tracks failed because of poor business locations.
While Malone would like to combine both stores into one space, he’s happy with the mall location.
Overhead is expensive, but it’s paid off, especially with Century Theater driving foot traffic his way.
Malone believes success comes from bringing something unique to the market.
Since small businesses compete with the likes of Kmart and Wal Mart, they need to offer something different to survive.
“I got into this because it’s unique and different and because Reno is an entertainment town and there has to be something for the kids to do in the wintertime.” It’s working so far.
Open for six months with two employees, Malone’s store is already surpassing expectations.
“The numbers are above what we anticipated,” says Don Purdy.
“I’m very pleased with what Marc’s doing.
It’s a good store and he’s good about business.”
Malone’s licensing agreement with Purdy was the first; now other stores are planned across the country.
“What I liked about Marc personally was that he was not per se a slot car person- he’s a businessman,” says Purdy.
“We looked at the numbers and arrived at a business plan.”
Purdy’s California store has been open 12 years in the same location, proof slot car racing can make it with the right location and the right owner.
Malone did his research, and it paid off.
“Now he’s opened the store and he’s doing very, very well,” says Purdy.
“The return on his investment is just phenomenal, so it’s a real success story.”
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.